Hello there. It’s me, your internet friend Jon. You know what I haven’t talked you about in a while that still bothers me to no end?
That’s right, it’s Joffrey Lupul’s contract. That untradeable, unmoveable, buyout resistant mess that Leafs inherited from the all-knowing Brian Burke. The deal where he decided that the guy who was an All-Star while on Phil Kessel’s line and has chronic back issues (amongst various other injuries) needed to be locked up long term and at a price that would require him to repeat his career year well into his mid-30s for it to even remotely pan out.
That’s what I’m writing about again today, but this time with a little less frustration, and little more hope, because maybe, just maybe, there’s an end in sight.
In Lupul’s recent interview with Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, there are signs from Lupul that he’s aware he’s on the back nine of his career, and that he’s definitely close to the 18th green for that matter.
“All sports I think
are always evolving but hockey’s so much different now,” he said. “The pace of
the game, the age of the players. When I came in the league there was third and
fourth lines littered with 35- to 38-year-old guys. You had these old veterans
on the team.
“Now it seems the
opposite: They can’t wait to get these guys out.”
But at age 32 –
relatively young by societal standards, ancient as an athlete – it’s pretty
clear that his mind has occasionally wandered to when the end might come. Even
with two years remaining on his contract there’s
no guarantee he has two years left in the NHL.
We’ve all seen enough players bought out or sent to the minors to know that the rug can be pulled away quickly.
The no guarantee of the next two years left in the NHL is eye opening, largely because Johnston is a smart guy, a connected guy, and not one to say things like this lightly. This really makes me wonder if we’re near the end of the Lupul era.
“Some days I feel good
and I think that I’m a good player out there, and other days my body maybe
won’t let me do as much as I’d like,” said Lupul. “Those are the days you kind
of think about how much time you really have left. … Obviously I have years
left in my contract, I want to keep playing – I still love playing – but you
never know what’s going to happen.”
While he’s aware of his shortcomings, Lupul doesn’t sound like he’s considering the Vinny Lecavalier “it’s my choice to retire, just give me a chance to win” approach. Lupul is set to be paid for the two years after this one, and he’s very interested in that combined $9M of income.
There is no way that Lupul is considered anywhere near the level of player that would earn that contract. The fact that he has the same number of points as Brad Boyes, who is only a year older than him and is on a $700k, pro tryout-turned-contract means that interest in Lupul would be limited. The fact that 11 of Lupul’s 14 points are goals, might make him moveable in a Rene Bourque horrible-contract-for-horrible contract type move, but it’s a tough sell.
Retaining salary on Lupul exhausts the Leafs ability to retain salary and it would be a hefty price to do so as well, so that would be an unlikely fit as the trade would still not benefit the Leafs in a significant manner.
This year was Lupul’s big year in his contract, the one that previously made his deal buyout proof, paying him $6.75M. Next year Lupul drops to his AAV and earns $5.25M before receiving $3.75M in the last year of his deal.
Looking at Lupul’s buyout options on General Fanager, neither one is overly pretty, but they are both reasonable options compared to if the Leafs had attempted to buyout Joffrey before this season.
No matter what, 2017-18 is gonna be a bigger cap hit for the Leafs if a buyout happens, but honestly the $1.5M or $1.25M options aren’t terrible when you consider how young the Leafs still are, and that the cap hit would be paid off prior to dealing with RFA contracts for William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and the 2016 1st round pick.
It’s never felt like a more reasonable time to look at this as Lupul’s last season as a Leaf.
The other option, of course is the Marlies. The savings each year on Lupul is less than $1M, but there isn’t the long term cap hit like you’d get with a buyout. It still leaves Lupul as a depth replacement option on the Leafs and potentially replaces the loss of firepower if we can expect the Marlies to be bled dry with promotions next season.
The other aspect of the Marlies demotion option is that this may not be something that sits well with Lupul, and after years of chartered team flights around the NHL, riding a bus around AHL cities may not be how he wants his career to end. Lupul only has a no trade clause, not a no movement clause, so this is something that could happen relatively easily.
There’s also the matter of whatever happened to Stephane Robidas. He’s certainly still a name that exists in Leafs land, and while we see him there on the Long Term Injury Reserve, there’s absolutely no chance that we ever hear from him again. You know another player that has been prone to injury that the league wouldn’t bat an eye over going on the LTIR? Joffrey Lupul.
I’d argue that having three players on LTIR, two of them in questionable circumstances might be a little much for the Leafs, but we’re considering all options that rid the Leafs of Lupul, that would have to be on the list.
I’d like to close off this crapping-on-Lupul session by saying how bad I feel about it. Injuries have plagued Joffrey throughout his career, and up until the past couple of years when he’s been in the lineup, it’s been worth dealing with the frustration during the times when he’s out of it. Playing over 700 games, scoring over 200 goals and 400 points aren’t small feats, and moments like the Ottawa All-Star game and his jabs at rival cities means that Lupul gave us a few positive memories in some horrible Leaf seasons.
The fact of the matter is, Lupul doesn’t have a whole lot to add to the Leafs going forward and the time to make a break is pretty much now. It’s unfortunate for the player, but it’s the nature of the business. To try and wrap ourselves up in good feelings isn’t going to improve the Leafs.